Jailed for an opinion?

With all the talk of Yahoo filtering information access, tyou might miss a European story involving holocuast denial. David Irving, a British “historian” most famous for his claims that the holocaust did not happen, has been jailed in Austria for saying as much in a speech. He subsequently claims to have changed his mind on the basis of reviewing new information but that was too late for the court. Oddly, the comments he made were in a speech years ago, and his defense is partly based on his claim that ‘history is a growing tree’ and he now knows more than he did at the time of his comments. You can find an account of this here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4733820.stm but this will not give you the full picture. Irving’s work has been dissected by notable historians who have tended to view his scholarship as dubious (to put it mildly), and his attempt to sue others who have criticized him failed miserably in a British court a few years back. Disturbingly, the report above mentions that Irving receives 300 fan mails a week for his views, which I suppose would encourage anyone to keep talking. But this leaves us with some interesting dilemmas. Just where does freedom of expression end? And if countering an extremist view takes painstaking research, how can the information needed to gain a balanced view be more easily accessed? I suspect there will always be people who chose to hold an opinion no matter what the evidence but this story suggests that emotion drives people far more than rationality and I wonder just where we find room for that in discussions of information, reliability, and the record of human knowledge.

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